Indie Authors, Interview, Q&A, Question Them

A Chat with Aliens In the Soda Machine Author REGGIE LUTZ

AITSM - Cover 2Welcome to the first edition of Causing a Ruckus on Ruckerpedia, in which I your host conducts an exclusive Q&A interview session with someone you should know more about.  In this inaugural edition I have fellow indie author Reggie Lutz (I’ve said this before, call her Regina at your own peril).

On Friday, May 1st via Amazon, Ms. Lutz (author of the novel Haunted) will release Aliens in the Soda Machine and Other Strange Tales, a small short story collection of ten terrific tales, featuring the lead story “Ice Mason”, originally published in Best New Writing 2008 (Hopewell Publications, 2008), and for which she received the Publisher’s Choice designation for the Eric Hoffer Award; “One-Hundred-Eyed Curse”, which originally saw light in the Greek Myths Revisited anthology (Wicked East Press, 2011); the novella “Fork You – A Gladiola Johnson Story (For Proserpine)” originally from Panverse One (Panverse Publishing, 2009); and the title story which was previously unpublished, while six other new stories round out the collection. So, without further ado, here’s my Q&A [ plus anecdotes ] with author Reggie Lutz.


RUCKER: So, inquiring minds want to know what’s the skinny on Reggie Lutz?  Take us beyond your being the indie author of the novel Haunted and the new story collection Aliens in the Soda Machine and Other Strange Tales.  Who the heck are ya?

LUTZ: I am an enigma wrapped in a mystery boxed in puzzlement and wrapped in a conundrum. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) What a big question!  Although for simplicity’s sake, I’m a writer. In the 90s I was a radio broadcaster at a 50,000 watt FM station broadcasting the modern rock format.  Stories and music are my first, truest loves.

RUCKER: During our recent chat I heard you pronounce your last name as Luh’ts, yet all these years I’ve pronounced it as Loots, thinking it was German derived.  However, you say that the way I’ve said it actually isn’t too far from the Italian surname from which is derived?  Tell us a historical story, Reggie.

LUTZ: This is funny because even within my family there are different pronunciations, which is really interesting to me because it is a four-letter, one-syllable word.  The name, three generations ago, was changed in the course of immigration.  It was originally Luzi, from my Italian ancestors.

[ Yeah, that falls right in line with many Italian immigrants in the twentieth century ]

RUCKER: In your own words, how would you describe your spankin’ new story collection, Aliens in the Soda Machine and Other Strange Tales (available Friday, May 1st on Amazon, folks)?

LUTZ: It’s an eerie, eclectic mix of stories featuring elements of urban fantasy, new weird, and interstitial fiction.  I’ve been told it also has strong literary sensibilities.  It’s hard to define, but for that reason I think it’s interesting and unique.

[ I’ve been reading it this week and I can’t disagree with that assertion. ]

RUCKER: Do you have a standout piece in this collection that’s particularly special to you?  Yes, I’m asking you to pick your favorite child and explain why that child shines a little brighter than its siblings.  Surely there’s one you hold most dear?

LUTZ: That is such a hard question!  It keeps changing! The novella, “Fork You”, is near and dear to my heart.  It was originally published in the Panverse One anthology and is how I became friends with Dario Ciriello who wrote the introduction for Aliens in the Soda Machine and Other Strange Tales.  Then there is the title piece, which I love because I was able to include radio in the fiction.

RUCKER: I understand that in addition to the digital version of this book for the Kindle that there’s also a paperback edition … and, what’s that you say?  It’s already available?  Wait … what?  I’m confused, Ms. Lutz.  Got a story for us?

LUTZ: Ha!  Yes.  The paperback was also slated for release on May 1, but as I was going through, making my approvals, I accidentally made it available.  After I discovered the error, I found that someone had already ordered it and I did not want to disappoint anyone else who might have discovered it by removing it from availability.  In my head the official release date is still May 1st.

RUCKER: Your readers have come to expect unique story titles from you, some of which are in this very collection like “Famous Nudes in Winter Clothing”, “Fork You – A Gladiola Johnson Story (For Proserpine)” and of course the story the collection is named after.  Do those eye-catching titles simply come naturally to you, or is it something you labor over a little bit?  I’m guessing it’s the former.

LUTZ: It’s a bit of both.  Sometimes a title is a struggle, so I’ll use something as a place-holder, just a way to reference the story I’m writing so that I can find it in the computer or notebook, depending on how it’s getting written.  Sometimes the placeholder sticks.  All three of those titles were initially placeholders until I decided they could stay.

RUCKER: You and I have talked about the difference between being a free-willing-polish-it-later “pantser”, which is what one has to do during NaNoWriMo for instance, or being an obsessive-compulsive like me which means you’re constantly rewriting and polishing as you go along.  Which would be your usual tendency?

LUTZ: I tend to romanticize the idea of being a pantser.  At heart that’s what I am, and it is how I approach a first draft, up to a point.  But I find that in order to get to the end of a messy first draft I need to know a few things before I start, so I’m somewhere in the middle at present.  I can’t revise as I go or I would never finish a piece, so I came up with a method for dealing with uncertainties in the first draft, which is to leave behind parenthetical notes to self.  The parentheses act as a signal to look closely at something when it’s time for first pass edits.  It gets confusing when parentheses are meant to be part of the text, however.

[ I can imagine.  My friend, you’ve inspired me to try pantsing later this year, which I’ve not done in a great many moons.  I’m sweating and twitching already! ]

HauntedRUCKER: Is there a method to your madness, meaning is there a certain routine you get into, or method you use to become a successfully productive author?

LUTZ: The big thing is to write every day.  I wake up, put the coffee on and 15 minutes later I am writing.  I have a day job, though, which sometimes means I have to change that schedule.  I find I am less productive on days when I have work in the morning.  Methods for productivity are something I have been thinking about a lot lately.  The single most useful thing that I do is write the first draft until it is finished, without revising until I get to the end.  I think that’s just something I learned about how I write, meaning if I don’t push through to the end, I won’t finish something.

[ A lesson you’d think I’d stubbornly learn well in recent years.  You see, this is why I try to stay associated with smart, inspiring people like you, Reggie. ]

RUCKER: Since you’re a music junkie like me, I have to ask: do you write to music – random selections or a created soundtrack – or do you have to have total silence?  In other words, can your two loves coexist peacefully?

LUTZ: I do both, total silence and music.  Music helps me get into the right headspace on days when I’m struggling to reach that state of story immersion, but if I’m not having a hard time getting there, I’ll dive into the fiction.  Usually toward the end of a session I end up putting something on.  Lately I’ve been listening to Hal Hartley’s soundtrack for Ned Rifle, which is this great minimalist ambient stuff that is really excellent, for me, to get into the right headspace.  So can my two great loves co-exist peacefully?  Sometimes, but not always.

[ I am exactly the same.  Mostly anymore, though, I have to use music to obscure outside noise. ]

RUCKER: Because the lessons are always worth repeating, can you tell would-be aspiring indie authors what the most difficult and the most rewarding things about self-publishing have been for you?

LUTZ: The most difficult is still self-promotion and marketing.  It can be a lot of fun, but the thing to remember is that if you want to make a living at this it has to be done.  There are a lot of most rewarding things about self-publishing:  creative control, you retain your rights, etc… I have to say, though, that my absolutely favorite thing about having gone this route is that there is something new to learn all the time.  There were some things that were intimidating to do on my own before I started, and it felt awesome to realize that with a bit of effort I could learn to do those things on my own.  It is worth the work.  You are constantly accruing new skills.

RUCKER: I’m gonna take ya back now.  Those early pieces you brought to my old virtual workshop, “Monkeymen” and “Grunts (NaNoWriMo working title)”, what are the fates of those old school pieces?

LUTZ: “Monkeymen” just stalled and hasn’t been completed, though I’d like to revisit it and perhaps restructure it as a novella.  There’s actually a blog post on my site that sort of references what happened there.  I was writing that during one of those times when my head kept getting turned by other ideas.  I was juggling multiple projects at that time before I really developed a method for it, and Monkeymen turned out to be a casualty (Monkeymen was about a set of fraternal triplets born with prehensile tails and how they cope with that into adulthood).

[ Fascinating concept, I must say.  Please get back to it sometime before I die. ]

“Grunts” I completed but I haven’t revisited that to do the serious edits it needs.  It was a pretty bizarre and dark horror story that was incredibly painful to write, if artistically satisfying to execute.  Thematically it’s really about the terror and uncertainty of going through life without purpose and what happens when your decisions are always made by external authority figures.  If I can remember the setting and plot correctly, it’s about a nameless character called The Subject, who works at a call center. She is being stalked by a government spy who becomes obsessed and is then rescued (or is she?) by other government experiments gone awry, while the very nature of existence comes into question because landscape features are disappearing into a heavy fog, leaving the world changed when it lifts.  Somehow, nanotechnology and nano-sized aliens are also involved.  And monads!

[ Mind = blown ]

I believe I opened it with a quote from Gottfried Liebniz:

“…when we expect that there will be daylight tomorrow, we do so empirically, because it has always happened so up to the present time.”

I was obsessed with the mysticism inherent in some of Liebniz’s thoughts at that time, although I’m not sure I knew what to do with it.  I was also reading Pynchon.  Now that you have me chatting about it, maybe I will go back and edit that one.

RUCKER: What can you tell the world about yourself that you haven’t yet revealed?  Can you give us a Ruckerpedia exclusive before you go?  Maybe something about a sequel with a yet-to-be-announced title. . .hmm?

LUTZ: Yes! I can! I’m currently working on a sequel to Haunted, titled Getting On With It, which follows the continuing misadventures of the McTutcheon sisters. Readers had asked to know more and I was not initially planning to continue but once the question was asked my brain started poking me with ideas.  I’m shooting for a December release.  Fingers-crossed I don’t hit any snags, there!

[ You read/heard/whatever it here first folks – The Management ]


Reggie LutzAbout Reggie Lutz

(From Amazon): Reggie Lutz lives on top of a mountain with a parrot who offers editing advice and a dog who offers comic relief. A radio broadcaster in the 90s and early 2000s, she has turned her attention to fiction, although she can sometimes be heard in a volunteer capacity at WRKC.

Personal Notes: I want to thank Reggie for being a guest here on Ruckerpedia.  Previous to conducting this Q&A she and I had our first ever video chat in which I learned immediately that she’s exactly how I imagined her to be in all these years just reading her words: smart, witty, down-to-earth and funny, as no doubt evident from the chat above.  She is one of those people I’m fortunate to have become associated with by a chance encounter.  We first ‘virtually met’ at the Zoetrope Virtual Studio in autumn of 2008 within my online personal office there, which housed a congregation of new novel writers dedicated to work-shopping novel chapters.  She had brought in to the group two works-in-progress titled “Monkeymen” and “Grunts” (working title), both of which were mentioned in the above chat.  Since then we’ve been buddies on the Interwebs, but obviously have never met in person.  Reggie’s from Northeast Pennsylvania (as an early transplant from New Jersey as well as Long Island, NY), while I’m from Indiana (which is now a totally unflattering thing to reveal these days).  Both of us are noted music geeks so naturally we somehow wound up having a random but curious discussion about her encounter with one J. Robbins, formerly of beloved D.C. post-punk/post-hardcore band Jawbox (one of my absolute favorite bands of all time).  At any rate, if you’re reading this then you should definitely check out her fiction work (available on Amazon).  And if you happen to see her at a bookstore signing, make sure you stop by to say Hi.

Editing, Interview, Q&A, Question Me

Interview: Three Questions with Brandon Rucker

This little Q and A interview is taken from the lastest edition of the Liquid Currents Newsletter we have for Liquid Imagination Online. You can read a transcript of the interview below or click this link for the entire newsletter, which also features an interview with poet Felino A. Soriano, another Daily Kick in the Pants from David Farland, and other news (plus the last edition is just below it).

Without further ado . . . the interview:

Three Questions with Brandon Rucker

1) You landed an editing job with a publication that was once associated with Zoetrope Virtual Studios and Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope: All-Story, and you did this while still new to the game. What qualities did you have to make them take notice?

Wow. You’re taking me way back so I will have to grab a dust mop to clear away the dense cobwebs in this cluttered mind of mine. If you will, allow me a moment to recall the history and some details about Zoetrope: All-Story Extra. Better yet, I can just provide the official description (edited in past-tense):

  • All-Story Extra was an on-line supplement to Francis Coppola’s fiction magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story. Each month, All-Story Extra featured two new stories submitted by writers via Zoetrope’s on-line submissions site. The stories were chosen and edited by guest editors—also members of Zoetrope’s on-line submissions site—with assistance from the New York editorial staff of Zoetrope: All-Story. All-Story Extra was created by Francis Coppola and five members of Zoetrope’s on-line submissions site, who comprised the Peer Advisory Board (PAB). The PAB selected the guest editors and nominated the stories that the guest editors considered for All-Story Extra. Guest editors could also consider stories featured in “The Top Three” stories and/or any others that they think worthy of publication.

Aside from that, I don’t know any finer details in regards to ASE’s founding or its inner workings. I do know that old school workshop members Mare Freed and Jim Nichols were part of that Peer Advisory Board, and were also the original Editorial Coordinators (i.e. liaisons). The Editorial Coordinator during my time, Barbara Garrett, was a good friend and a joy to work with during my stint.

Here’s a fun fact: the founding editors had also had work published in ASE as well. The reason their stories were eligible to be published through ASE is because the identity of the authors were anonymous so that the Guest Editor could have a more unbiased selection process, if I remember correctly. Finicky reader and maverick that I am, I went outside of the Top 3 as well as the other nominated stories suggested by the PAB because I was not overly impressed with what had been considered the ‘best stories’ by the voting membership. I cared even less for popularity contests or politics.

Now, to get back to your question more directly, in my opinion, the condition for Guest Editor, like any voluntary activity, requires that you have drive and passion, along with a selfless desire to help your peers achieve the goal of publishing. Naturally it helps to have some kind of editorial mindset, too. That might be an understatement.

Months earlier I was one of the founding editors of the fledgling (and now long defunct) webzine called Z End Zine which was founded and published by Kieran Galvin, who had corralled a handful of us upstart Zoetrope members to branch out into online publishing using his server. This was also a volunteering position, so the above ‘qualities’ applied. Naturally some of the workshop luminaries landed bylines in our small handful of issues. A few months later, I suppose I still had the editor’s itch because I found myself doing a two-month stint as Guest Editor for Zoetrope: All-Story Extra.

Another fun fact: I was the only guest editor to A.) Work without another guest editor, B.) Serve on two consecutive issues of Zoetrope: All-Story Extra [issues 22 (May 2000) and 23 (June 2000)].

2) Now you’re editing micro-fiction at Liquid Imagination. Is the editing different between micro-fiction and short stories (don’t laugh).

Other than having a smaller word count to read and scrutinize, I would have to say no, not really. I think in editing you bring a lot of the same core fundamentals to all forms of writing. The focus may change in some ways with a given form, but I still approach the writing with a sharp eye on the story details, the craft and basic mechanics of the writing, as well as a what I like to term as the ‘organics’ of the writing. That said, I think many editors approach another writer’s work as if it were their own, and that’s not something I like to do because the writing is not mine. However, with my name endorsing the writing, I do take the same amount of care and quality assurances as I would with my own writing, but I believe that my job as an editor is to support the author’s vision and, if I can, somehow enhance that vision to its utmost clarity.

3) Music and writing. As an accomplished musician who also interpreted every piece of poetry in one of our past issues, I can truthfully say that you know music, perhaps as well as you know writing. How does music and writing relate to each other? How do they differ? The reason I’m asking is because it takes an act of creativity to write a song, and songs often tell stories that are accompanied by music. And something else I want to know (so make this 4 questions with Brandon Rucker): Does inspiration used to write a song come from the same place from which you conjure up the inspiration to write a story?

Great, tough questions, which respectfully deserve to be answered after careful consideration. I think this is one of those things that multi-media-dwelling artists undoubtedly know internally, but rarely ever articulate into words for a general audience, so I will try my best to articulate this well.

The easy answer of how music and writing relate to each other is that, for me, their origins likely trace back to the same well. Yet I think motivations and goals can differ greatly and even sometimes be mutually exclusive at the same time. This isn’t double-speak, mind you. I just think that the variables are innumerable in the grand scheme of art. You know me. I should probably leave you with the easy answer on that part, otherwise we’ll be here a while. I always say, though, that most if not all art is ‘performance art’ because it is almost always created for an expected audience. Rarely is art created in a vacuum.

The obvious difference is in the sensory perception: one is auditory, the other visual. Another particular way writing music and writing words differs is that a musician is afforded the luxury of impressing upon the listeners the array of emotions he wants his audience to experience almost immediately. Sure, it’s not quite as immediate as, say, a visual artist who can get your reaction to their painting or sculpture within several seconds of viewing, but the gratification you get from listening to a piece of music is certainly a swifter experience than with reading a piece of fiction that’s more than a thousand words long. On the other hand, reading the words of a fiction writer is a little more interactive because the reader can then engage their (liquid) imagination, transport themselves into the story and become a part of it.

I think, for me, inspiration to write music definitely comes from a different place than the inspiration used to thrust me into writing a story. First, you have to understand that I’m far more into the actual music than say the words or even the vocals (though vocal melodies are a big part of what makes or breaks music with words). I’m an instrumentalist first, a vocalist dead last, LOL. So when I sit down with the guitar, or keyboard, or even the drum machine, my inspiration as well as my goal is far different than when I sit down to transform the story in my head into words on a page. For me, music comes from deep within my soul, and it may be cliché to say that it is innate, but for me that is certainly true. On the other hand, writing words is more cerebral. It is much more of a heady experience for me compared to music. Don’t get me wrong, composing and performing music can be a heady experience as well. Writing stories, even when inspired by true emotions, is still a more mentally challenging exercise because all of the filtering that we have to do as we channel the stories, the fictionalized lives of people and the world.

###

Interview, Liquid Imagination, Q&A, Question Them

Interview: A Conversation with Bob Thurber – Part Deux!

By Brandon Rucker via Liquid Imagination

In this conclusion of my two-part conversation with author Bob Thurber, we chat more about his debut novel, Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel (which was released May 1st by Casperian Books), its long journey into publication, and what the future holds for the new novelist.

You can read Part One here!

RUCKER: I understand that your debut novel Paperboywas originally “completed” back in 2003 when you first began to shop it. The agent you had at the time suggested changes that would have compromised the overall story, so you stuck to your guns and went with your second and current agent. I imagine there’s a great number of first time novelists who would have folded under such pressure for fear of losing that crucial first opportunity. However, you did not. How did it feel to see the integrity you had in your writing validated?

THURBER: I don’t see it that way. After the manuscript was completed, I never felt any pressure. My first agent was a good man, a former senior editor, and a seasoned professional. He originally took me on as a client believing he could sell a collection of my stories to a major publisher. He had great admiration for my short fiction and he was anxious to have the novel in his hands. After I handed in Paperboy, he admired the writing, but not the subject matter, which he felt was too dark, too harsh. And I had no argument on that point. He knew his stuff, knew the industry, and he wanted a more marketable book, so he made a number of suggestions on how to improve the manuscript and make it more acceptable to publishers. Sound advice, really. But I wasn’t interested in dampening the theme or softening the dysfunctional nature of the book. A number of publishing houses, about a dozen editors who had considered the collection had specifically asked to see the novel when it was ready. Though they were waiting for it, he never sent it to them. He considered it a tough sell because of the controversial subject matter and the fact I was a first time author. Still an unknown. And ultimately he was correct in that assessment. My second and current agent loved the novel, and he submitted it to a good number of publishers. Some held on to it for a long time but ultimately they all passed. So I don’t feel any sense of validation in that respect. The happy news is that we eventually found a publisher willing to move forward. I do think it’s a far better novel now than what I originally turned in, so the long waits, the long process, then the rewriting and editing, all that contributed to the finished product.

RUCKER: Paperboy is inspired by and filled with several autobiographical bits of your life. Fiction is a balance of truths and lies. How difficult was it to balance fiction with reality, considering the subject matter and the stark truth of your life events?

THURBER: Though it is a work of fiction, I drew extensively on childhood memories to create scenes, settings, the feel of that time, those years, the hardships of living in poverty, all that. But the book isn’t close to being a memoir. What truth it contains goes beyond my personal experience and realizations. I was a lost child but it’s not a story about me, more about the human spirit, how lost kids survive or don’t. It’s not for the feint hearted. But it’s as genuine and authentic, and as daring as anything I’ve written.

RUCKER: Can you tell us about your decision to use two different tenses in the narrative for this book? It’s definitely effective and I think it really allows you to keep the voice consistent and transparent.

THURBER: Well, the narrator, Jack Fisher, is just a kid, a 14 year old boy, and like most kids that age he is unable to fully tell his story (just as we are all limited in our abilities to express ourselves fully, wholly, completely, whether we’re writers or not.) So at times Jack tip-toes around certain subjects, certain issues, or he digresses, spilling anecdotes from his family’s past. Throughout, he is sincerely trying to tell his story. He’s trying very hard. One reader remarked that “not since Holden Caulfield have I felt such a kinship with a boy in a book” and I take that has high praise for the genuineness of Jack’s character and the authenticity of his voice.

RUCKER: What was your writing regimen like for this novel, particularly the re-write you did for your current agent, Jack Scovil?

THURBER: No one ever asked for a rewrite. Not my agent, not the publisher. They were satisfied with the manuscript as it was. The rewrite was my decision. After Casperian accepted the book, I reviewed the manuscript. I hadn’t touched it in years. I immediately saw things I didn’t like, scenes that needed flushing out, a few gaps that needed plugging, a couple of story questions that needed to be addressed. And the pacing needed smoothing. So I went to work, revised the entire thing from beginning to end, and ended up adding about 30 thousand words. It was an exhausting process, but I had to do it. I felt, and still feel, an overwhelming sense of responsibility to the lost children the book represents.

RUCKER: I assume you will continue to produce short fiction, but do you have another novel on deck to follow up Paperboy?

THURBER: Yes. That manuscript, titled April Fish, is nearly done. I’m close to putting it in my agent’s hands, so we’ll see if a publisher embraces it. Essentially, for twenty years I concentrated on writing short fiction and a novel is a whole different animal. I’ve had to change some working habits, but in time I’ll get better. The next project after April Fish is a book I’ve been researching and making notes on for decades. I’ve never been in any rush.


Read our Exclusive Excerpt

You can sample and/or purchase Paperboy at the following links.

Casperian Books
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

 

Learn more about Bob Thurber here.

Interview, Liquid Imagination, Q&A, Question Them

Interview: A Conversation with Bob Thurber – Part Un!

by Brandon Rucker via Liquid Imagination

Fellow author Susan Henderson calls him “a masterful wordsmith” and “a trailblazer”. I personally call him the Maestro of Microfiction. I also call him friend.

In the late 1990s I was introduced to Bob Thurber and his exceptional writing. We met where many writers had for the past dozen or so years: at the American Zoetrope Virtual Studio, the brainchild of filmmaker, fiction enthusiast and artist advocate, Francis Ford Coppola. Although I became a member in late 1998, I didn’t read and thereafter converse with Thurber until sometime in 1999. I’d like to think we hit it off smashingly. Heck, we even found ourselves on the same side in many of those early, heated literary debates that writing communities are known to have. In many ways Thurber became a willing mentor to those of us who were wise enough to listen, and many members still consider him a literary hero to this day as I do.

I know I personally became a kind of raving fanboy, always referencing his talent and citing his works as glowing examples of how flash fiction was supposed to be done. While reviewing one of his classic stories, I had said “You’re just too good at what you do. Great fortune awaits you, my friend.” Indeed.

I recently uncovered several quotes from some of the other AZVS members about Thurber and his writing from over the years. The praise included such phrases as “scary talent that inspires,” “helpful, gracious and generous,” “Thurber can’t be beat” and “there’s some consolation to losing [a contest] to Thurber”.

Then there was a time when the favorite, though somewhat reclusive, scribe decided to vanish altogether from the ranks that so revered him. First was the complete deletion of his membership. Following this was a series of cryptic messages on his personal website. Various inquiries went unanswered. Thurber, either by design or by accident, had become a bit of a legend in the underground writing community that populated the Zoetrope Virtual Studio. Some even questioned whether Thurber had prematurely passed away—perish the thought! It got so serious that a few members actually checked into his possible demise. .

I am happy to report that the truth was much more positive. Thurber was simply on a mission. He saw no need to talk about writing anymore because he was busy actually writing stories, submitting them, getting them published and winning several contests and awards (if you consider over forty to be merely ‘several’). He has also spent a great deal of his ‘away’ time working on his debut novel, Paperboy: a Dysfunctional Novel (which will be published in May 2011 by Casperian Books).

Thurber and I kept in touch irregularly over the years. Recently I was able to corner him for this interview, an invitation he graciously accepted despite his disdain for talking about himself and despite his recent unspeakable loss of his daughter. And so follows my conversation with the illustrious yet ever-so-humble Bob Thurber.

RUCKER: Bob, what I like most about your fiction is the strong undeniable voice that speaks through it, especially in your first-person narrative works. I remember that I used to read your works and forget that I was reading a work of fiction because the voice that came through was always so real, the stories seemed like non-fictive confessionals. assume that was intentional, and that your 25 years of writing before we met helped you achieve this.

THURBER: First, thank you, Brandon, for your enthusiastic support of my work all these years.

In answer to your question I guess some of my pieces read like “non-fictive confessionals” because many of them start out that way: as true confessions. I’ve never actually sat down with the intention of composing a fictionalized story, short or long. All my work originates from snips of prose recorded in my daily notebook, which is something I’ve maintained for about 35 years. The notebook is part diary, part journal, part sketch pad, part exercise workbook. It’s where I start each day and where I probably spend too much time playing with words when I should be focused on other work.

I’m never trying to create anything publishable in the notebook so I have the freedom to be frank and open, to be snide or silly or tell harsh truths. Any distortion or fictionalization comes only after I’ve identified something genuine, something authentic. At that point I’ll examine the emotional energy in that chunk of prose and try to build upon it, flush out and intensify whatever emotional component caught my eye. But in the beginning I’m never writing fiction; I’m simply making a record of scatterbrained observations, with no goal except to put words on the page, all the while attempting complete sincerity. So maybe some of that sincerity ends up clinging to the fictionalized pieces. That’s my best guess, anyway.

Rucker: For as long as I have known you, it seems you have always written and published micro and flash fiction more than traditional length short stories. Why is that particular love affair the strongest?

THURBER: It’s not a strong attachment, really, though I can understand why it might appear that way. I’ve published a lot very short pieces in venues that imposed a small word limit. And a few of those smaller pieces won an award that brought some attention. But I’ve published a good amount of long stories as well, a few pieces pushing ten thousand words. There’s a moderately long story (about 6000 words) in the next issue of The Indiana Review that I drafted about ten years ago. And I’ve got a trunk load of traditional length pieces never submitted, and long drafts that I haven’t touched in a decade or more. When I started to regularly submit my work I found it easier to pull smaller pieces from my files and edit those. So I guess all it comes down to is that the shorter pieces were easier to rework, shape up, revise. Easier to style.

RUCKER: Some people have described some of your stories as ‘downers’. How do you respond to that description of some of your work?

THURBER: I’m not sure if that’s a complaint or a compliment? Either way it’s a fairly accurate observation. There’s no question some of my pieces are dark, and a few are downright disturbing. But they deal with everyday matters. My monsters are always human. Nothing supernatural occurs. I think that if there’s a common theme or message it’s along the lines of “Count your blessings, because things could be far worse.”

I’m glad when they cause the reader to pause and maybe reflect.

Some years ago I went to a small dinner party and another writer, a talented young woman, who had read a number of my stories, confessed she was surprised to discover that I wasn’t the seriously dark and gloomy person she had expected me to be. Off the page I’m a pretty funny guy. I sometimes write humor, though I haven’t tried to publish many of those pieces.

I’m more intrigued by the darker parts of human nature, the daily traumas that leave scars, the horrific little things people do and the hurtful things they say to one another. I’ve developed a pretty good sense for recognizing cruelty in its various disguises, behind its various masks. I try to present those findings, expose some of the nuance. I recognize that hurt often breeds hurt, that people who are suffering deep emotional pain frequently pass that suffering on in ways big and small, not necessarily intentionally, but by social accident, social collision. Sometimes it is only a minor mishap, a caustic remark. A small action. But that’s an aspect of behavior that I like to examine. I’m no admirer of the dark side but I’m not afraid to study its mechanisms, its power to direct a person’s life by his or her daily actions, how that undermines and destroys relationships. It’s pretty naïve and somewhat of a cliché, but I’ll admit I’m a child of the sixties, a member of that post-hippie generation who believed, as Kurt Vonnegut did, that people who are supposed to love each other should try “a little less love, and a little more common decency.” We’re all going to fade. The least we can do is try to be kind to one another while we’re alive.

RUCKER: You have won your fair share of awards for fiction. Upwards of forty awards, including the Barry Hannah Fiction Prize. What do those awards mean to you? Is there one that means more than the others, or is it like picking a favorite limb?

THURBER: For a long time I was resistant to publishing. I never submitted anything anywhere. Even now I’m sluggish about sharing my work. But for a few years I got in the regular habit of entering contests. So that’s how the awards came about. I liked the discipline of meeting deadlines, though most of my entries were last minute. And I looked at entry fees as a way of supporting the publication while gambling on my work. I like to gamble. I’m a pretty good blackjack player, well ahead of the house, though I seldom get to the casino anymore.

Funny story: about five years ago my wife and I were having lunch at Foxwoods Casino when my cell phone rang, and it was the editor of Meridan Magazine. A very nice woman informed me that my story had won their Editor’s Prize. I was shocked and a bit disorientated. I couldn’t even remember what I had sent to them. I said, That’s great. What did I win? She said, A thousand dollars and publication in the next issue. I said, Cool. I’m in a casino. Should I go back to the tables and gamble some more?

She probably thought she had the wrong number.

Anyway, I enjoyed the irony of getting the news while in a casino, mainly because I think any literary contest is a gamble, a calculated risk, and pretty much of a long shot. I rarely enter them anymore.

RUCKER: Does outside recognition like that validate what you’ve done, or do you feel that positive confirmation has to come from within?

THURBER: I imagine every writer wants recognition for the work they do. Validation can be a morale booster, an incentive to do more work, better work. But I also think that a lot of young writers rush to be published before their work is ready. For myself, yeah, sure, I chased after validation for a short while. And the awards certainly brought a sense of that. But in my case I had a trunk full of work accumulated from over two decades. Lots of work to draw from. Prior to that my validation came from letting my wife read my work. She was my entire audience. So I had her reaction, her opinions, and her support on a number of levels. Beyond that was my own conviction, the fact that I knew I was doing the work every day without excuses, without any need for outside reward. Back then I believed that when I eventually did publish I would do so with a pseudonym. A lot of my early drafts still have that pseudonym on them, and I sometimes wonder why I didn’t stick with that plan. A nom de plume has some advantages. Don’t misunderstand. I like when my work gets recognition, but I’m uncomfortable when too much attention is directed toward me. Over the years I’ve turned down numerous interviews and invitations to “guest edit” or to judge contests, so many that I suspect others draw the impression I’m difficult or unfriendly, but it’s really just timidity, my personal awkwardness. I’ll be honest and admit I’m feeling some of that right now.

RUCKER: Who are the writers that have had the most influence on you as a writer? Who are your literary idols, if you have any?

THURBER: Tough question. Difficult to answer in so short a space. I’ve had scores of influences, direct and indirect, good and bad. Thirty years ago Henry Miller changed my life. So did William Saroyan. There’s a sincerity that flows through their work that is raw, often brutal, but very much alive on the page. Salinger and Hemingway were huge influences for a time; they’re so smooth it’s unnerving. Then there’s Kafka, Hamsun, Donald Barthelme. Dozens more. I used to read like a fiend. I preferred short story’s more than novels. I’d read the same story over and over, trying to break it down. But at the same time I was always studying a lot of psychology, sociology, religion, mysticism, so I was greatly influenced and redirected by nonfiction writers such as Rollo May, Eric Fromm, Krishnamurti, Annie Dillard. Julian Jaynes’ book on “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” woke me up. So did Dudley Young’s “Origins of the Sacred.” I mention those titles because they happen to be sitting on my desk. I often go back to works that impressed me. I’ve got a pretty good sized library in my home. But I’m not being fair, or giving a very good answer. I’m sorry. There are just too many authors that influenced how and what I write. It’s a pretty mixed bag.

RUCKER: Do you remember in the late 90s when flash fiction truly became en vogue, the writing community debating the merits of ultra-short fiction and its parameters? On one side of the argument were those who demanded that flash be fully realized stories and contain all the usual story elements—a beginning, middle, and resolution—only in a more condensed form, an abbreviated presentation. Others insisted that the larger story could simply be more implied than oddly forced into such a truncated form. Looking back now, how do you view those debates and did you agree or disagree with either side?

THURBER: I’ve never been a fan of the term “flash fiction” or any of the labels applied to very short fictions. I’m drawn to compressed work, stories that pack a punch in a rather short space. But there are compressed novels I like just as well. So it’s never been about length with me. Good writing utilizes compression. I like density, the weight beyond the actual words on the page. I’m in awe when I find it.

As to the debate about what components make up a capable “small fiction,” or what can or should be left out, I think it’s an impracticable argument, rather subjective from a reader’s view, equally so from a writer’s scrutiny. Every work dictates its own requirements, its own necessary parts. Certainly some impression must be made, some fixed, unified emotional effect upon the reader. The more solid the better, but even a vague impression, a sense of underlying emotion will get the job done. So allusion and implication are important no matter what the length. I guess my view is that if you understand fiction’s basic principles and ideals (which are often misconstrued as strict, rigid rules ) then you’re no longer restricted by them. Better to recognize the rules as guidelines, study them, practice them, understand them, but never let them deter you from creating something fresh, something new, exciting and unique.

RUCKER: Susan Henderson said in an interview a few years back that she believed you were instrumental in getting the Flash Fiction wing opened up at the Zoetrope Virtual Studio. I was certainly around then, but somewhere in between then and now I took a nap. So tell me, my friend: is that myth or truth?

THURBER: That was a long time ago. I was a strong advocate for the creation of a separate wing for Flash Fiction but many members were onboard that campaign. So I can’t make any claim to being instrumental in the process. It’s flattering to be considered some part of it though. Susan Henderson, by the way, is a hell of a writer and one of the nicest people I’ve come in contact with. She’s got a debut novel people should pay attention to. I wish her continued success.

RUCKER: We are featuring three of your microfiction works in our current issue, the two classics in “My New Place” and “Grave Invitation”, and the previously unpublished “Rooms for Rent, Men Only”. What can you tell us about the origin of those works?

THURBER: Not very much. All of those pieces originated in my daily notebook and were based on actual experiences before they became distorted, shaped into the things that they are now. I’m glad that you found some merit in them. And I think you and Sue did a terrific job enhancing “Grave Invitation,” turning it into a multi-media piece. Very nice. Thank you for that.

RUCKER: It’s been a long time coming. Just how anxious are you to finally have your first novel released to an unsuspecting public this year? I know I am anxious for you!

THURBER: I feel really fortunate to have found a publisher willing to take a chance on Paperboy, though I sometimes think I’m not as happy or as thrilled as I should be. It’s certainly no easy chore to get a book published, particularly a highly dysfunctional novel such as this one, which deals with themes and issues not often talked about. So I consider that part of it an honor. A true gift. It was really such an odd, eerie feeling the first time I held the actual book in my hands. It’s got weight, more than I imagined. I’m confident that some readers will find merit in it. There’s already been a bit of buzz about the release, a lot of emails congratulating me, some requests for signed copies, so my mailing list has increased substantially. Oddly, I’m not anxious about the release. At least I haven’t been. Maybe that will change as the date gets closer. Right now I’m focused on other projects. I’m close to handing off another completed novel to my agent. So that’s really where my focus is, on the work still in front of me. Paperboy, anything I’ve published, all of that has to fend for itself.

This concludes the first part of my conversation with Thurber. Be sure to return on May 31st for Part 2 in the upcoming ninth issue of Liquid Imagination as we turn the focus to writing craft and Thurber’s debut novel, Paperboy: a Dysfunctional Novel

Read the first seven pages of Paperboy at Casperian Books

Pre-order PAPERBOY from Barnes and Noble

Learn more about Bob Thurber

And be sure to read Bob Thurber’s microflashes featured in Issue 8 of LI Online:

Room for Rent: Men Only

My New Place

Grave Invitation

 

Interview, Q&A, Question Me

2-Minute Drill Q&A with Brandon L. Rucker – by Steve Lowe (2010)

Black hat

The following Q&A was conducted January 2010 by  author Steve Lowe and originally published on his website steve-lowe.com

So far, this little project has Drilled authors of short story & novel, as well as a somewhat peculiar artist, but today we have a treat. This guy is not only an author, he’s a musician, and we’re not talking garage band here. He writes and plays his own stuff and he’s going to debut some new work for us right here, which makes us super flippin’ pumped.

The 2-Minute Drill is 5 quick questions and 5 quick answers from someone you probably haven’t heard of, but should hear from. This isn’t some rambling, long-winded author interview here. We dispense with the pleasantries and get down to brass tacks. We ask the tough questions and get the tough answers that you need to know.

Meet Brandon Rucker. This guy rocks. Don’t take our word for it, though, you can listen for yourself, but first, tradition holds that he must be Drilled, so assume the position!

2-MD: How many fingers am I holding up? (No peeking. No peaking, either.)

BR: Only one because you’re flipping me off.  Not a good way to greet your guest, I’ll tell ya that much.  That’s a surefire way to get your little show here cancelled, ‘cause I know people.

2-MD: What led you to pursue music and at what point do you actually think you’ll get any good at playing it, if at all?

BR: Ouch.  I guess you won’t be coming backstage after the show to meet my my brother from another mother, Darius Rucker. Y’know, Hootie?  Hey, did you know that Jimi Hendrix was my great uncle? (2-MD: Nice try, playing the ‘Hootie’ card on us, but we’re not that easily fooled here at 2-MD. But just in case, we’re sorry?)

2-MD: On a scale of 4 to yellow, how fast do squirrels from Muscle Shoals, Ala. travel when in heat?

BR: Burnt orange.  Them lil’ critters are fast at everything.  Ever see them mate?

2-MD: Gas, grass or ass, nobody rides for free. So which is it gonna be?

BR: Gas, if I’m driving, but if she’s driving it’s definitely ass.  As for grass, I ‘Just Say No.’

2-MD: Will you sing something for us right now? Please? Pretty, pretty please????? OK, we’ll be quiet now and everyone can have a listen. Go ahead…

BR: I tell ya what, since you’re struggling for ratings, sponsors and endorsements here at the 2-Minute Drill, I will debut the demo of a brand new song from my acoustic project, Sap. Link

Fence & Tracks 3

Wow, we are taken aback.  Never before has such beauty graced the Drill, aside from the flower print dress Pederson wore last week, of course.  If you were moved by that, perhaps you should listen to some more of Brandon’s music .  Make sure to buy a CD as well.  We’re getting quite the nice little kick back on each sale.

Humor, Interview, Q&A, Question Me

Brandon Rucker on the 2-Minute Drill With Steve E. Lowe

Posted today is my little interview with Steve E. Lowe for his ongoing feature the 2-Minute Drill on his Assorted Shitzengiggles blog.

We had some technical difficulties with WordPress that wouldn’t allow us to post a music widget to debut my newest tune, “No Sacrifice” for the yet-to-be-written follow-up Sap album.

But I have the link to the music widget right here, baby.

No Sacrifice [demo preview]